Not everyone has an easy route to success, but the story of Abdou Jammeh, Gambia’s U-23 coach, is inspiring.
He was raised by a teacher Elina Prokey when he was four (4) years old. All that Abdou Jammeh knew while growing up was going to school to make sure of acquiring good grades after High School.
This is not a surprise because his guidance was an educationist by profession and wouldn’t allow Abdou to mess around. In addition, his father, Lamin Jammeh, was a golfer in the Gambia, and Abdou would sometimes go to the golf course to watch his father play golf at Fajara.
Despite his father, Lamin Jammeh being a professional golfer, Abdou T- Boy Jammeh accidentally became a footballer after moving to Bakau.
While playing for the Bakau-based team Steve Biko FC in the GFA First Division League, the windows of opportunity opened for Abdou.
He later got the chance to play for the National Team, signed a professional contract abroad, and also became the Captain of the Gambia Scorpions Team.
As he is fondly called, T-Boy Jammeh played with three generations in the Gambia Senior National Team.
He retired in 2017 and went into coaching. He now acquired A license badge in coaching.
Abdou Jammeh previously played for FC Torpedo Moscow in the Russian First Division.
He signed for Torpedo in early 2008, following the relegation of his previous side FC Tekstilshchik-Telekom Ivanovo to the Russian Second Division. He had previously spent two years in Tunisia with ES Zarzis. In September 2011, Jammeh signed for Kazma in Kuwaiti Premier League.
Abdou has more than 32 caps for the Gambia senior national team.
In this week’s TAT Big Interview, our Sports Contributor, Lamin Fadera talks to former Gambian International and Coach of the U-23 National team, Abdou Jammeh. The former Scorpions captain talks about his Life as a professional, retirement, ambitions, and obtaining a license in coaching.
Tell us who is Abdou Jammeh?
It’s difficult to explain myself, but I can say that I was born in Bakau. I was raised by a teacher named Elina Pro key, an Aku. I called her my mom because I have lived with her since I was 4.
I can say that when I was young, I was between Ndemban, Bakau, Sanyang, and Banjul because her kids live in Banjul. My father is a professional golfer Lamin Jammeh of Bakau.
How did Abdou Manage to be a footballer when your father is a golf player?
When I was young, I watched my father play golf, but like I said, I was raised by a teacher; all my mum wanted me to do by then was focus on my education. So, you know, know been brought up by a teacher, the priority must always be education.
I became a footballer by accident after the death of my mum. I moved back to resettle in Bakau in early 2000. I then focused on football Because, with my mum, it was difficult. I was more focused on education and miniature golf because my Father, Lamin Jammeh, was a golfer.
In Bakau, there was Biko Academy, Saint Matty, and Latjorr. But I played all my career with Steve Biko. Then, in the latter part of my career, I was loaned to Latjorr to gain more experience from the club.
That was a part way for me because, after that, I gained more experience, returned to Biko, and played a few years before traveling to Tunisia to play professional football.
We understand you are an artist, too; tell us more about it.
I inherited that from my father by profession he is a golfer and artist. We both do tie and dye and batik as well. So, while playing football, I was also doing that job.
Explain to us how does it feel to play for the Gambia?
Playing for one’s country is always an honor. I am grateful for the time I spent playing for the Scorpions and the Gambia. Representing my country is incredible. That also means my excellent work has been recognized as among the best in the country. Although it took me by surprise when I got my first call to the A team. It was always my dream to one day don the colors of my country.
The feeling of wearing national colors and playing in front of the home crowd is overwhelming and challenging. While it comes with a lot of positive excitement, it also comes with fear of failing to achieve what the public expects. So this is primarily a win and nothing short of it. But, of course, you always want to show the best you can offer.
What’s your highest moment?
My highest moment was when I was first called up to the Senior National team in 2005 against Cape Verde, under the leadership of Coach Alagie Sarr and the late Peter Bonu Johnson.
This was a special feeling for me as an upcoming national team player. This is particularly special because out of a million Gambians home and abroad, you are called one of the best eleven football players to wear the colors of your national team.
And not just that, immediately emerging as the best in your position was more memorable. As part of the team, the famous draw against Senegal was the best moment but, at the same time, the most painful moment after we missed out on qualifying for an AFCON spot on a goal difference/ technically (very regrettable).
Senegal had just not long ago been one of the best 16 teams at the world cup in 2002, and we succeeded in knocking them out of qualification for the AFCON on their home turf. At the same time, Senegal is our biggest football rival. So yes! This was the highest moment for me as part of the national team. At the club level, I have won the Tunisian Cup 2005 and played in 3 continent Club champions (Caf club cup with Esperance de Zarzis Tunisia/ Asian club competition with SC Kazma of Kuwait quarter-final exit/ Europa cup play-off with ROPs Finland. Playing in these high stages of continental football or competition in Africa/Asia and Europe was a vast experience. But perhaps the highest moment for me was winning the Tunisian Cup with Esperance de Zarzis. It was the best moment for me. This offered me my first medal and trophy as a professional soccer player.
Tell us the sacrifice you made to play for the scorpions? What were the challenges you faced during those periods?
I firstly would like to acknowledge the support of my family, friends, and loved ones, fans who, over the years, have been cheering and standing by me in good and bad times from my playing days to date. At the same time, I would like to seize the opportunity to seek forgiveness and understanding for the shortcomings that sometimes come with the profession and humanity in general. Like most African players, we all have problems with our clubs; I wasn’t an exception because I had a bad experience with one of my parent clubs, which even forced me to terminate my contract with them and return home.
My only crime was playing for my country, but for the club, it was more personal with the then coach of the Gambia National Team, Paul Put. They felt I couldn’t play under him while playing for their club for some personal issues the club had with him. I refused to oblige because, look at this, I was playing for my home country and not Paul Put, so I should not have been dragged into whatever issues they had with him. Because I refused to listen to them, I was subjected to unfair and discriminatory treatment.
In the end, I couldn’t take the disrespect and ask for the termination of my contract. So, risks and sacrifices I have taken and made for the Gambia. There are instances where you must risk your club career for national team football. This usually comes with substantial financial loss or losing your position at the club level, either too late arrival, injury, or due to fatigue and exhaustion. A perfect example is when I was playing in the Russian league.
It sometimes takes me days or weeks before I can pass medical tests or the required average percentages to be on the team list. I remember when I was separated from the team until the Team doctor gave the green light. Sometimes, I travel or transit to a country with a medical restriction or pandemic. In addition, in those days, the Gambia Football Association struggled financially, and our traveling routes weren’t favorable, nor were the hotels the best. But despite all those difficulties, I never stopped coming back because I believe playing for one’s country is an honor and a privilege, so that is why you never want to refuse playing for the national team to the end. In my early days with the national team, we encountered tough and different challenges with the football association ranging from traveling, bonuses, accommodations, and equipment.
Sometimes players must come to the mercy of the federation to address the situation, paying our own air tickets, hotel bills, food, sleeping at the airport, just name it. Despite my young age, I was fortunate to be with senior players like Edirissa Sonko, Musa Bajaha, and Ebou Sillah. These were like my mentors. They strengthen my devotion and courage by being exemplary. We also had Bakary Dahaba, the then Team Manager crisscrossing between the GFF, the Ministry of Youth and sports, and Banks to facilitate refunding players’ air tickets, bonuses, and other bills. The situation wasn’t favorable back then, but the players were committed and supportive because of their love for the country.
How did it feel after you acquired your A license in coaching?
ANS Of course, I am happy and relieved I could do it. It was a lot of hard work (A year plus duration). It took a lot of time and effort. In Finland, they demand a lot from the ones wanting the A license + Diploma (studying Applied science and sport management and development, etc. from Haaga-Helia university & Erikkila sports university). Still, it is good since you really can learn and develop yourself. Also, I believe it’s continuity in furthering my education in coaching, gradually developing myself because each Diploma has an added gravity over the other. Receiving it is a huge step forward for me as a coach. The motivating factor since I started this path is the desire to develop a better self in the first place and, second, to be able to contribute to the positive development of the sport. Continuing to be an eternal learner who constantly seeks new information from the people around me is essential to me. I believe in challenging my ideas with that of other coaches. Constant self-development and evaluation are vital ingredients in any future growth. Therefore, I think investing in achieving the A License is an excellent step in the right direction. I evaluate my work to develop and prove that I can be even better.
What is your goal as a coach?
Like any other coach, the primary goal is to build strong teams capable of winning any competition. And to achieve that, the individual player and the team’s mental and physical fitness become central. I have worked with very successful coaches as a player and have gone through rigorous training to earn my license. So, my goal is to coach teams and enable them to become successful and win trophies. These can be clubs or national groups. As an individual, it’s hard to say where life takes me, but of course, I want to develop myself as a coach, improve my profession, share my knowledge and help players succeed.
Q7. You are among the few coaches who get A license. Would you like to be an instructor?
Yes, I can say that with humility. I am fortunate to be among the few Gambian UEFA A License diploma holder. It has been part of my training as a holder of the mentioned license coach or train coaches. So yes, I have the training to be a coach’s instructor. Would I like to be one? Why not when the opportunity presents itself under the right circumstances? But firstly, I believe in becoming an instructor as a career. I need further education in that area because all my instructors during my training had very rich CVs (Pro Uefa + FIFA, degrees coupled with excellent work experience). In addition, at this point, my primary focus is to prove what I can do by successfully leading teams to develop and win trophies and producing and nurturing successful players at the individual level.
Q8. A license in coaching is a huge accomplishment. How important is the license as an ex-football player?
This is an important question. It gives me theoretical knowledge of things I didn’t know much about while playing on the pitch. It also gives others an insight into my understanding. I think my career as a player and the coaching training complement each other. I think I can use my previous career as an asset in coaching since I have seen and experienced football from the player’s perspective and now from that of a coach. It gives me a holistic preparation to nurture individual players and teams to be successful.
What is the Importance of grassroots football development as a Coach?
ANS Everything starts there. The youth are the Future, and the earlier their talents can be identified and nurtured, the better for the coach. And one of the primary goals of a coach is to identify and nurture raw talents. A reasonable and resourced grassroots football development is a good starting point for a successful club and football. You must be able to get the best out of players and help them develop themselves. And the grassroots level is the key. At the earliest possible time, we need to capture the talents and teach them the game’s rules, the required mindset on and off the pitch, and how to take care of themselves nutritionally, mentally, and physically. These are very important in producing a complete and successful football player. You need to have quality coaches with the proper education who are motivated and want to genuinely improve the youth. Look around the world; the most successful footballing nations and clubs are the ones with the highest developed youth academies. We don’t even need to look far to point out the evidence.
What is the Importance of a coach in motivating his players?
Motivation is about half of the coach’s work. No matter how star-studded a team is, if it lacks motivation, it can’t produce the result it potentially could. That is why it is crucial for the players to trust their coach and his tactics; and feel inspired by him. This contributes to perceived ability, autonomy, cohesion, and relevance. In addition, it gives the players enjoyment in action, guides the step to aim, acts as a source of energy, and thereby makes them work in a certain way and with particular enthusiasm, which results in improved well-being and performance level. The role of motivation for players cannot be over-emphasized. Without it, everything else can go wrong.
Q11. Would you like to Coach the Senior national team in the Gambia in the Future?
Like I said earlier, playing for my country was an honor, so I must repeat the same here. Coaching for the Gambia would also be an honor. But let’s see what life brings. We have several good Gambian coaches who I believe would also want to coach the Gambia, and I hope we wouldn’t need a foreign coach soon. I will cherish the opportunity to coach the Gambia one day. I will have to be crazy to say no to such an opportunity. Giving back to my country is almost like a religious obligation to me. It is imperative. So, let’s see what the Future holds.
What advice would you like to give upcoming players, especially on the side of education and coaching?
My advice to young and upcoming players is pretty simple and straightforward. First of all, take responsibility for yourself. This means you need self-motivation and drive instead of waiting on someone to give it to you. Take charge of your life socially, physically, mentally, and nutritionally. Avoid all the vices that have led so many promising talents in our game astray, and in the end, all the potentials they early showed amounted to nothing. There are so many raw talents out there, and the competition to become one of the best is challenging. You will need a certain amount of drive and self-motivation to win this competition. There are many examples among present and past players, both home and abroad, to emulate.
Exercise discipline and a certain degree of humility, and be willing to learn. That means being interested in your own development and taking responsibility for it. The use of time in our society is usually a big problem. We give very little respect to time. This is very sad because it is one major factor holding us back as a people and society. The young people must recognize that they can no longer treat the business as usual to succeed. They have to make good use of time, including how and when you sleep, eat and rest. These are very important in taking good care of your mind and body. Choose your friends wisely and pay attention to how you use this friendship on and off the pitch.
Finally, they must know that they are what they put into their bodies. That brings us to food and non-food consumption. Eat in quality and quantity, and avoid drugs, smoking, and alcohol consumption. For they can only take you backward and not forward.